Guest Post by Nancy Rosenhaus, L.I.C.S.W.
Adoption is an incredible way to grow your family. Whether you already have children in your home, or you have longed to become a parent for some time now, adopting a baby is the start of a new and exciting chapter. Of course, there are steps you must take before you can adopt. Every state – and every adoption agency – has different requirements and processes for hopeful families. But one common (and important!) prerequisite is the adoption home study.
The home study is a crucial component of the adoption process. It ensures that every child adopted is placed in a safe, stable, and healthy home. It evaluates the environment in which a child will grow up, as well as the ability and readiness of the parent(s) to raise a child.
Home studies are required in every state across the country and are typically conducted by licensed adoption agencies. The home studies consist of:
- Documentation reviews
- Background checks
- Multiple interviews
- In-home visits
- Parent education
We understand that the home study can feel intimidating for waiting parents, but it does not have to be! A home study is simply a formal way for an adoption agency to get to know you and your family as well as to educate you. At the same time, the home study is also a great opportunity for you to learn more about the adoption process and ask questions along the way. Right now, for example, you may have questions like:
- How long does an adoption home study take?
- What is the home study process like?
- What can I do to prepare for my home study?
You have come to the right place. You will want to be prepared for the journey ahead. In this short guide, we will share all that you need to know about the home study process.
What to Know About the Adoption Home Study
Adopting a child is an exciting time, but it can be very emotional. The waiting game can be tough for prospective adoptive parents who are eager to bring their baby home. Know that it will take some time. In fact, the home study process itself takes several months to complete. This is because, with high quality adoption agencies, it involves:
- Thorough screening and background checks
- Interviews with everyone in the household
- The examination of medical and financial records
- Multiple in-home visits
- Educational sessions
Remember, the home study process is how your adoption agency will get to know you and your family. They need to do this in order to approve you to adopt. As noted above, however, the home study interviews are also a great opportunity for you to get to know your adoption agency. You can ask questions, make connections, and prepare for your growing family every step of the way. On top of this, the home study also provides education, preparing you to become parents through adoption.
As reported by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, and echoed above, there are three core purposes of the adoption home study:
- Educate and prepare the prospective parent(s) or family for adoption,
- Help adoption agencies evaluate the suitability of the prospective parent(s), and
- Help social workers gather information about the prospective family to help ensure a good, supportive match for the child.
Hopeful parents often do not realize that home studies expire, and the expiration date varies by state. In Massachusetts, the home study is good for twelve (12) months upon completion. Depending on the length of time it takes to be matched with your child, you may need to update your home study.
The adoption process does not end with the home study. Once you are home with your child, you will need to meet the post-placement requirements before the adoption is finalized in court. While it varies by state, this will entail at least two or more in-home visits (Massachusetts requires 3 meetings) and monthly check-ins with your home study (or adoption) professional. These check-ups ensure that the child and parent(s) are adjusting well. You may wish to speak with your adoption professional further about these post-placement visits.
Preparing for the Home Study Process
There are some steps you can take while preparing for the adoption home study. For example, you can gather the required documents needed for the process ahead of time. Your adoption agency can give you the latest, most accurate information regarding what you will need, but you will typically need the following documents:
- Criminal background checks (forms will come with application)
- Copies of personal documents such as: birth certificate(s), driver’s license(s), divorce decrees, marriage license (if applicable)
- Pet vaccination records (if applicable)
- The most up-to-date medical records and financial documents (such as recent 1040 tax return)
- Personal references
- Statement expressing why you wish to adopt
- Autobiographical statements
Gathering these documents will help make the process smoother and more efficient.
Once you have gathered these documents, you may want to shift your focus to the in-person portion of the home study. There will be visits to your home and family interviews by the home study/adoption professional. This person will be visiting your home to ensure that you can provide a healthy, safe, and secure environment. Make sure you have the following items secure:
- Secure windows and doors with screens and locks
- Properly functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- Pools with appropriate safety measures
- Proper storage for potentially hazardous materials, such as cleaners, medicine, and chemicals
- Furniture mounted securely to walls, as needed
- Enough space for a child in your home
Remember that you do not have to be rich, nor do you have to have the “perfect home” to adopt a child. Your adoption specialist is looking around your home to ensure that it is safe and healthy for a child.
What to Look for in Your Home Study Professional
The home study can feel like a daunting step in the adoption process. You may feel pressure to have a spotless home, with gleaming hardwood floors and baby locks on every surface. This is not the case. The right home study professional will not be walking around your home with a white glove, swiping every surface for dust. The best professional for this job should be checking for any potential safety concerns, but at the same time, be able to put your mind at ease. They will be checking to make sure your home is safe and healthy enough to bring home a baby, but they can also offer pointers to help you make it even more family-friendly.
A reputable, full-service adoption agency can fulfill the needs of the home study. However, it is important to find an adoption agency that is licensed to do so in your state. On top of this, be sure to look for an adoption agency that you feel is supportive and trustworthy. The right agency will help to prepare you for the home study – and for parenthood – with compassion, encouragement, and respect.
Choosing to work with a full-service adoption agency can offer many benefits, including a one-stop experience when it comes to adoption. Instead of having to hire a separate home study professional, you can leave it to the experts who are handling the entire adoption process. At a full-service adoption agency, there is typically one, flat fee that covers all the steps required to make adoption possible.
Nancy Rosenhaus L.I.C.S.W. is the Associate Director of Adoptions With Love (AWL). She has been working at AWL since 1988 and became the Associate Director in October 2001. Nancy’s responsibilities include overseeing the day-to-day operations of the office and formulating and implementing plans for AWL’s future. Nancy works extensively with expectant birth parents over the phone and in person. She also conducts home studies and provides post placement services for adoptive families. Nancy has a Master’s degree in Social Work. AWL is a licensed, full-service, non-profit adoption agency located in Massachusetts, which works with expectant/birth parents across the United States to create loving adoption plans and offer a range of services to waiting families in Massachusetts (counseling, legal support, home studies, and more).
Interested in learning more about the adoption process? Join Nancy and other family building professionals on Nov. 18th for RNE’s 30th annual Family Building Conference!